The bit with the soldiers looked tacky. She sounded so insincere. And she was most definitely lip-synching. But who cares? Who goes to a Britney concert for the music anyway?

It was quite poignant for the show to end with an image of Britney trapped inside a bubble, for the same reason that I think "Lucky" (not "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" or "Overprotected," and certainly not "What It's Like to Be Me") is the song that most reflects Britney's true feelings. I just don't buy her whole "oh I'm so happy, my life is just great" shtick. I think she's miserable. One clue is that "Lucky" is her only song (besides "The Beat Goes On," but that was a cover) sung in the third person. Hmmm.

OK, OK, on to the album. "I'm a Slave 4 U": I don't know about the "kitty, kitty" vs. "get it, get it" thing—Rob Sheffield wrote it as the former in his column in RS last month. But then again, he likes Nelly Furtado, so he's not a very dependable source. There's a rumor going around,so I've been told, that Britney's whispering "I just wanna have sex with you" in the background, at various points. Perhaps: It sounds like "next to you," which, to me, means pretty much the same thing. This song is an extremely risky move. I can't believe they chose it as the first single. Britney's people must have such faith in her audience. There's no melody—in fact, it's more like an anti-melody. You can't hum it. It's an uncomfortable song, very itchy, not satisfying like most—actually, all—of Britney's other work. "Baby" and "Oops" both have these bombastic choruses that build and build and build then explode on their "money phrases" ("hit me baby one more time" and "I'm not that innocent"); "Slave" does the exact opposite. It just kind of bumps 'n' grinds along, the only thing close to a crescendo being the beat between "a" and "slave". I really dig the way she sighs the word "slave" away into nothingness. If you think about it, this song is much more in tune with feminine sexuality than her other, instant-gratification, climax-oriented mega-hits. Oh those sneaky, sneaky Neptunes: Fuck Bob Dylan and the Strokes; they're the real Artists of the Year.

Smoke and mirrors at Madison Square Garden, last Wednesday night
photo: David Atlas
Smoke and mirrors at Madison Square Garden, last Wednesday night

"Overprotected": The cursing ("I don't wanna be so damn protected") caught me off guard. I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Spears approve! (It made me think that "Oops! I Did It Again" would be much better if it were called "Shit! I Did It Again.") This is one of my personal faves; I'm slowly beginning to appreciate Max Martin's talent for crafting pop songs with kick. And "Overprotected" totally kicks. Somebody yells "ACTION!" and it's on. (Probably the best use of the word since that Nation of Ulysses song that was the theme song for MTV's The State.) The cameras roll, she's in your face. It's even got that Britney Bass™—the real nicotine in the cigarette, 'cause it's what gets everyone addicted.

"Lonely": She's mad at the guy for doing exactly what she did to him in "Oops"!: "You think I'm so naive/How dare you play with me/I gave you my heart and soul, yeah/Tell me baby, please/Why you're screwin' with my head." Hello? Didn't anyone ever teach Britney what comes around goes around?

"I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman": Ugh!! But what do you expect from Dido? I found it quite inappropriate that Britney dedicated this song to the troops on HBO. What do they care about her growing pains?

"Boys": I don't know about you, but I've never in my life thought hair could be sexy, especially on a man, I mean a boy. Still: another Neptunes triumph. By virtually copying their beat from Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money," they turn a song about a pimp giving his 'hos a verbal beatdown into a celebration of feminine desire. And nobody notices, least of all Britney. Brilliant. Oh, how much money I would pay to hear Britney moan, "I don't have no trouble with you fucking me/But I have a little problem with you not fucking me."

"I Love Rock 'n' Roll": First of all, she doesn't love rock and roll. It's so obvious. Did you see the little Behind the Musicparody that preceded this song on HBO? Rock and roll is something silly, something to be made fun of. A costume to put on. Britney loves pop, not rock and roll—and there's a big difference, I'd like to think. "Rock and roll" means rough and nasty sex. I don't think Britney likes it rough and nasty, despite the claims of the messages that flood my Hotmail bulk mail folder. And rock and roll does not and should not soothe the soul, as Britney moans in the line she added in. It fires you up, makes you want to change things, break stuff, get it on. Rock and roll is anything but soothing; smooth jazz is soothing. And finally, this song has nothing to do with girl power, as Britney claimed in one of her countless indistinguishable interviews. As she may or may not know, Joan Jett's version was a cover as well—the song was originally written and performed by the Arrows, who were boys. Her Jettness turned it into a girl-rock anthem. Who besides dorks like me has heard of the Arrows?

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